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Jackson County Declares Drought

Drought Reservoir
Jes Burns/OPB
Jackson County Parks Program Manager Steve Lambert looks at low water levels at Howard Prairie Lake in this file photo from May, 2015. Water levels haven't dropped that far this spring, but with rainfall and snow pack at well below average, Jackson County commissioners just issued a declaration of drought conditions.

An exceptionally dry winter in southern Oregon has led the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to issue a declaration of drought conditions.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to declare a local disaster due to the drought conditions. The commission will ask Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state drought emergency for the whole county. The move would open access to aid such as state and federal disaster loans, and would allow flexibility in managing water use, if that became necessary in the coming months.

Reduced snow pack, low water levels in reservoirs and diminished stream and river flow could hit farmers, ranchers, vineyards and the water-related recreation industry.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Rogue-Umpqua region has gotten only 67% of its average precipitation, and 64% of its average snow pack, for the current water year, which began in October. The US Department of Agriculture predicts 50% of normal precipitation for Jackson County over the next 90 days.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts says the board weighed recommendations from several sources before making the declaration.

"This comes from the experts in the field; our water master, irrigation districts, and they do have monitoring on our streams, they continue to monitor those, and we respond accordingly," she says."

Roberts says the rising fire danger relatively early in the season is of particular concern.

"The Department of Forestry forester Dave Larson just contacted me about the fact that our dry conditions are like mid-to end- June, and he's looking to possibly call for fire season to begin as early as May 1st" she says.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state agencies have already asked Oregonians to avoid outdoor burning for air quality-related health reasons. Many cities also already have bans on open burning.